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Belgium in Brief: To Extend Or Not ?

Credit: Belga

Today’s the day we’ve all been waiting for.

Beating Christmas, Easter and Spring break to become the most anticipated day on Belgium’s 2020 calendar – today is the day we find out the next lockdown step.

Will it be extended? People think so. Will festivals be cancelled? Again, the prevailing expectation is yes. Most importantly, however, is that fact that we won’t know for certain until this evening – and we’ll be sure to let you know as soon as it’s confirmed.

So what is there to read about while we wait? A study suggests we could need social distancing until 2022, Marc Van Ranst calls out current methods of reporting deaths in care centres, and the latest figures in Belgium.

With so much information, and so little time to catch up before it potentially changes again, here are some of the top stories from around the country to get you up to speed.

Belgium in Brief is a free daily roundup of the top stories to get you through your lunch break conversations. To receive it straight to your inbox every day, sign up below:

1. Belgium reaches 33,573 confirmed cases

2,454 new people have tested positive for the new coronavirus (Covid-19) in Belgium, confirmed the Federal Public Health Service during a press conference on Wednesday.

1,600 of the newly-infected people live in Flanders, 706 live in Wallonia, and 95 live in Brussels. The FPS does not yet have further information on the place of residence of 53 other people. The total number of cases in Belgium, since the beginning of the pandemic, is 33,573. Read more.

2. Counting all deaths in care centres is ‘dumb’

It is “dumb” that almost all deaths that occur in residential care centres in Belgium a the moment are being counted as deaths because of the coronavirus, according to Belgian virologist Marc Van Ranst.

“Almost all people who die in a residential care centre, which is about a hundred people every day, end up in those statistics,” said Van Ranst. “I think that is dumb,” he said, adding that he also meant that people who die from a heart attack, for example, are being counted. Read more.

3. Belgium to review coronavirus lockdown on Wednesday

Belgium’s National Security Council (NSC) will meet on Wednesday to review the coronavirus lockdown, which experts and officials have hinted is likely to be extended beyond the current 19 April deadline.

Federal government officials will convene with the leaders of Belgium’s regions and language communities at 2:30 PM and discuss a possible lengthening of the lockdown, in place since mid-March.

In announcing the latest extension to mid-April, the NSC had said that pushing back the lockdown a further two weeks to 3 May was a possibility. Read more.

4. Study: social distancing could be needed until 2022

A number of periods of social distancing could be required between now and 2022 to prevent health services being overwhelmed by periodic resurgence of the coronavirus, according to a study by scientists from Harvard University in the US.

The scientists created a model of the evolution of the Covid-19 infection, based on the assumption it will assume a seasonal character similar to other flu-like diseases. The paper is published in the latest edition of the journal Science.

The model is speculative, given that so little is known about the new virus, including the degree of immunity obtained by someone who has been infected and recovered. Read more.

5. Want STIB to broadcast your voice through Brussels ?

A bus from Brussels public transport company STIB equipped with loudspeakers will spread words of encouragement to and from loved ones throughout Brussels this and next week.

STIB is calling on people to send them voice messages via Facebook Messenger at @LASTIB, along with the address where the message should be delivered. “If you send us an audio message, the person it is intended for will hear it in his or her street in Brussels,” STIB explained. Read more.

6. Ghent mulls wider cycle lanes amid drop in car traffic

Officials in Ghent are considering enlarging cycling lanes to facilitate social distancing as cyclists and pedestrians replace reduced vehicle traffic amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The proposal to widen the spaces for the circulation of non-motorised traffic in the city was made by Groen MP Sara Matthieu, who said it was a “logical” choice as mobility habits changed under the nationwide lockdown.

“We notice that many more people are cycling or walking, [usage] proportions are no longer the same, which jeopardizes safety on bicycle and pedestrian lanes,” Matthieu said. “Crucial for safety, but also logical with so little car traffic,” she wrote on social media. Read more.

7. Belgian researchers plan ‘responsible deconfinement’

Researchers from the Université libre de Bruxelles (ULB) and UNamur have been working on the issue of “responsible deconfinement” out of the lockdown to contain the further spread of the coronavirus.

Their three-part strategy was published in the journal Nature Medicine on 10 April, according to a press release issued on Tuesday.

Researchers propose a strategy of progressive deconfinement in three complementary lines of action: maintaining social distance, setting up mass screening and implementing procedures on a large scale. Read more.

Jules Johnston
The Brussels Times